Thursday, 3 December 2015

007 - Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale's James Bond is vulnerable, both physically and psychologically. Run-ins with the films various heavies leave him bruised and bloody. There's always a sense that he's straining, Daniel Craig rarely seen without a veil of sweat. The casual arrogance that has driven four decades of powdered and puckered secret agents is played like a con. Craig's Bond doesn't wade into every situation an expert either, he's a bruiser, careful enough to roam around a room before committing to violence. 

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (with Paul Haggis polishing) have re-thought Bond from the ground up, scattering clues and signifiers throughout the film that indicate a markedly different reading of Fleming's old Etonian character. Casino Royale's 007 (if for this film only) hasn't come from privilege. He isn't a gentleman, born to inhabit opulent casinos, he's a chancer. Although Bond never confirms Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)'s pointedly probing assertions about his background, her comments that he doesn't come from money dangle so unopposed it seems sensible to assume they're exposition. Bond is still an orphan, but he's also been made into an interloper.

When Lynd pegs him as having entered an esteemed university thanks to someone else's charity, 007 looks evasive. Casino Royale places a chip firmly on James Bond's shoulder. He's stuck, by his past, by his lack of liquid status, always playing catch-up. Lynd takes pity, furnishing him with a tailored Brioni dinner jacket that better allows him to fit in with the millionaires that encircle the film's high stakes poker table. This new 007 (thankfully) doesn't tally with the invincible, flawless persona we're used to. He's incomplete. Craig doesn't even look the part. Aside from his blonde hair, this Bond is broad and muscular were the last two were dark and wiry. He's heavier and more brutally tuned than even ex-bodybuilder Sean Connery. 

When casting their new Bond, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson have taken Ian Fleming's description of the character as a blunt instrument to heart, chiselling out a version of Craig that looks like he could collide with a small car and come off better. Casino Royale also hones in on Bond's desperate desire to please, an underutilised component of the Fleming character's psychological make-up. Purvis and Wade's approach to this quality (one that could potentially weaken their character and make him appear a toady) is to have him act out. Bond doesn't break into M's house to further his cool-guy agenda, he's doing it to impress her. He's asking her if any other agent has ever been so bold? It's a challenge, absolutely, but it's an audacity born out of an essential loneliness. One that Vesper spots.

She categorises the Double Os, the murderers, as lost little boys, desperate for order. Orphans, malcontents, Bond is doubly damned. Despite what Spectre would have you believe, these are the threads that allow Craig's four to operate as an unbroken run. Skyfall gives us the antithesis of this adventure, a different agent that turned bitter and rogue under torture. Quantum of Solace and Spectre offer resolution, Bond fulfilling his promise then throwing his gains away. Casino Royale is Bond as a superheroic text. The film taking as many cues from Christopher Nolan's Batman and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man as it does the Jason Bourne series. In every case we're watching a man assume and struggle with a mantle. 

Casino Royale does this by proposing a Bond that acts like a working class squaddie who has been elevated, socially, by a mysterious benefactor. Bond took this new arena as a challenge, fine-tuning himself until he was able to hang in there and outlast the better bred competition. That's his power - an idea that has roots in Fleming's books - Bond won't be broken. He'll suffer, bleed, and curse his failing body but he won't give in. He's bloody-minded; cackling all the way into his extinction. Royale complements this idea beautifully by making all of Bond's victories either moral or completely inconclusive. This new 007 isn't someone used to outright triumph then, he just has a nasty habit of living longer than the people trying to kill him.

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